Gov’t launches ‘Discovery Corps.’ for do-good scientists

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has named the first six fellows of its new Discovery Corps: a pilot program that is exploring innovative ways for scientists to combine their research expertise with service to society as a whole. The initial group will undertake projects that range from preventing corrosion in Baroque-era organ pipes, to training retirees to work with kids in science classes, to attracting undergraduates to seek careers in science and technology. From National Science Foundation:
NSF Launches Discovery Corps Fellowship Program

Pilot project helps scientists give their research expertise broader impact

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has named the first six fellows of its new Discovery Corps: a pilot program that is exploring innovative ways for scientists to combine their research expertise with service to society as a whole.

The six are Dominick Casadonte, Texas Tech University; Alanah Fitch, Loyola University of Chicago; Earl Wagener, Clemson University; Geoffrey D. Bothun, University of Kentucky; Catherine M. Oertel, Cornell University; and Carrie Stoffel, University of Colorado.

This initial group will undertake projects that range from preventing corrosion in Baroque-era organ pipes, to training retirees to work with kids in science classes, to attracting undergraduates to seek careers in science and technology. Each project will be based in the chemical sciences, says Katharine Covert, program officer for the Discovery Corps, since all the funding for the pilot project phase, a total of $1,090,000, is being provided by NSF’s Division of Chemistry and Office of Multidisciplinary Activities. But, she says, ”the program is left very open to allow applicants to design a project that reflects their own interests and skills.”

Discovery Corps projects can also be tailored to meet the needs of the host organizations, says chemistry division director Arthur B. Ellis, who notes that the program requires each fellow to obtain support and oversight by affiliating with at least one host institution. ”This provides the hosts with an opportunity to move in new directions,” he says, ” just as it gives the fellows an opportunity to broaden their horizons.”

To help achieve the latter goal, he adds, the Discovery Corps program offers two types of awards. The one-year senior fellowships are intended for mid-career scientists who have already accumulated substantial independent research experience, and who are looking to strike out in new directions. The two-year postdoctoral fellowships are intended for recent Ph.D.s who are seeking alternatives to the traditional postdoctoral experience, in which they would work in the research group of a senior principal investigator. But in both cases, says Ellis, ”the Discovery Corps fellowship program recognizes that expertise in scientific research can give value to our society in many ways.”

A solicitation for the second round of Discovery Corps fellows will be announced this summer.


Dominick Casadonte, Texas Tech University, 806-742-1832, [email protected]
Casadonte plans to connect senior citizens in the Lubbock, Texas, area, which has a rapidly growing retirement community, with elementary and middle school students in the local public schools. ”There is something that works magically between seniors and young children,” he says. Call it ”the grandparent effect”: the seniors are engaged and intellectually stimulated, while the children, who are often from distressed homes, gain a positive adult role model. Casadonte’s strategy is to train a group of senior citizens, aged 65 and up, in both pedagogy and general chemistry principles. (Right away, he notes, that will demonstrate to them that they’re never too old to learn.) The seniors will then volunteer as teacher’s aides, mentors, or resource persons in the schools. During the course of the program, Casadonte will work with gerontologists, sociologists, and other specialists to evaluate the classroom effectiveness of the senior volunteer, the educational outcomes for the students, the attitudinal, physical and cognitive outcomes for the seniors, and the overall efficacy from the perspective of the classroom teacher.

Contact at the Lubbock Independent School District: Sheryl Schake- Meskin, Science Education Specialist, 806-7925468*707, [email protected]

Alanah Fitch, Loyola University of Chicago, 773-508-3119, [email protected]
Fitch will undertake an experiment in long-distance learning in partnership with Kenya Methodist University, which is located in a remote region of that country about 150 miles northeast of the capital Nairobi. This effort will build upon an existing plan to have several Loyola professors and students spend a semester at Kenya Methodist for a joint course on ecology, ethics, and environment in East Africa. Because Kenya Methodist is quite new and has no chemistry department, Fitch’s plan is to put several of Loyola’s advanced analytical instruments on the Internet, where (with proper safeguards) they can be monitored and operated from a distance. African students will then collect environmental samples and send them to Chicago, where they will be analyzed according to experimental protocols designed by the students themselves. Fitch also plans to study how culture may or may not affect learning.

Earl Wagener, Clemson University, 864-656-7235, [email protected]
Wagener plans to enhance the graduate and undergraduate experience by teaching students how to understand the industrial culture, helping their transition to industrial careers. This project includes a semester-long course covering core research and development career skills, prioritization of research activities, commercialization processes, project value analysis, intellectual property, and job performance reviews. During the second semester, selected graduate and undergraduate students (and their advisors) with interest in industrial careers will also participate in a unique evaluation of their research projects using industrial critical value metrics. In addition, vice president-level industrial research and development leaders will participate in one-day seminar/project evaluation/consulting sessions.


Geoffrey D. Bothun, University of Kentucky, 859-257-5823, [email protected]
During his fellowship Bothun will take up residence at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, a historically black university that is also a participant in the Center for Environmentally Responsible Solvents and Processes, an NSF-funded Science and Technology Center based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While there, Bothun will develop a program for undergraduate research and development in science and technology, and pursue his research interests in membranebased supercritical fluid separations. A major goal of this project is to inspire students from under-represented groups to pursue graduate education and careers in science and technology–specifically in areas promoting green chemistry

North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University: http://www.ncat.edu/
The Center for Environmentally Responsible Solvents and Processes: http://www.nsfstc.unc.edu/

Catherine M. Oertel, Cornell University, 607-256-9809, [email protected]
In the early 1700s, the great Baroque-era pipe organs were the highest of high technology, the PCs of their day–and, not incidentally, the instruments for which Johann Sebastian Bach wrote much of his music. In the centuries since then, however, most of these organs have been lost to war or illconceived restoration attempts. And today, the few examples that remain are corroding badly, for reasons that aren’t completely clear. So Oertel, a solid-state chemist who also happens to play the organ, will spend her two years as a Discovery Corps fellow trying to understand and solve the corrosion problem. Along the way, she will develop lesson plans for middle- and high-school students about the physics, chemistry, and materials science of musical sound. And she will participate in Cornell’s ongoing partnership with the Goteborg Organ Art Center and Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden–a partnership that will ultimately result in a new pipe organ’s being built at Cornell in the Baroque style, specifically for the performance of Bach-era music.

Cornell Center for Materials Research (an NSF-funded Materials Research Science and Engineering Center): http://www.ccmr.cornell.edu/
Nev Singhota, Educational Programs Director, 607 255 1486, [email protected]
Shefford Baker, Materials Science and Engineering Professor, 607- 255-6679, [email protected]

Carrie Stoffel, University of Colorado, 360-650-3000, [email protected]
Stoffel will spend her fellowship at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., where she will organize a series of after-school science clubs in eight middle schools in the demographically diverse area. She will also recruit and train pre-service teachers and chemistry majors to lead these science clubs.

North Cascades and Olympic Partnership (an NSF-funded Mathematics and Science Partnership): http://cascadesolympic.mspnet.org/
George ”Pinkie” Nelson, Director of Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education Program, 360-650-3637, [email protected]

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.